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The Black Spring Press Group

John Kahekwa's Memoir

John Kahekwa's Memoir

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The life story of John Kahekwa, one of the world’s leading conservationists, and his struggle to protect gorillas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amid widespread poverty and the turmoil of war. The book shares John’s life story, from growing up in a small village and walking barefoot to school to starting work with the gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and learning their behaviours, habituating them to be comfortable in the presence of people, and then the incredible suffering they endured in what has been called ‘Africa’s World War’. The book is, at its core, a tale of exceptional devotion to a cause, a refusal to accept defeat and a determination to continue working, no matter the emotional toll or against seemingly impossible odds. From humble beginnings, we see John’s progression to the world stage, shaking hands with British Royalty while continuing to devote himself to the people, forests and gorillas of his homeland in the DRC. While some of the events described are harrowing, the overall message of the book is one of hope and inspiration; that with steely dedication and unwavering hard work, there is a bright future for the gorillas and the people of Congo. In that way, the book shines a positive light on a country famously described as the ‘Heart of Darkness’.

John Kahekwa featured as the 'Gorilla Coach' in the recent BBC documentary Silverback, telling the story of presenter Viannet Djenguet as he follows the efforts of Rangers in Kahuzi Biega National Park to habituate the Silverback Mpungwe and his family to the presence of people to enable tourists to visit. John played a key role habituating gorillas, training rangers, and taking tourists to visit them in the 1980s before the Congo wars, using funds from tips he saved up to found the Pole Pole Foundation that has worked for over 30 years to support communities and protect the gorillas in the park. John tells of the damage that conflict and poverty has caused to the critically endangered Grauer's Gorillas and the threats they still face to this day, as well as the importance of the habituation process to successful gorilla conservation, generating vital revenues to protect the gorillas and replicate the success seen in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda. 

The Pole Pole Foundation (POPOF) is multi-award-winning grassroots, community-led conservation organisation working to protect the critically endangered Eastern Lowland, or Grauer’s, Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pole Pole means ‘slowly’ in Swahili, reflecting the organisation’s ethos that conservation work needs to be carried out over the long-term, providing enduring support to help communities protect the forest and the gorillas that inhabit it. POPOF were one of three finalists in the inaugural Earthshot Prize, the 'Nobel Prize of Conservation', in 2021, in the Protect and Restore Nature category, and are now working to scale their award-winning work to better protect gorillas and support communities in the Congo and enhance conservation efforts worldwide.

A quote from John:

"I often refer to my country and the Grauer's gorillas as the forgotten country and species, we are not well-known by the world, so I am very happy that this book will be published and can show readers the challenges we have faced but also the hope we have for a brighter future. Protecting gorillas in a sea of poverty and conflict is not easy, it has been my life's struggle, but one I am forever glad I have been involved with, for there are few other things as special as spending time with the gorillas. I hope the book will inspire readers to visit us and experience the amazing wonder of spending time with our gorillas, these wonderful gentle giants; as we say in Swahili, Karibuni Congo, 'Welcome to Congo!"
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